Abul'l-Ala' al-Ma'arri (973-1057 AD) was born and died in Ma'arrat al-Nu'man, a town between Aleppo and Homs, from whence he derives his nisba. At the age of four he went blind because of smallpox but still became a dedicated scholar, known as the "Philosopher of poets and the Poet of philosophers". His famous work Risalah al-Ghufran was reputedly the inspiration for Dante's Divine Comedy. With him closes the Golden Age of Arabic poetry.
The present work, Risalah al-sahil wa al-shahij, was mentioned by historians and critics but was a lost work until it was rediscovered by Dr Ayse 'Abd al-Rahman bint al-Shati in 1975. It is addressed to Shugha 'Aziz al-Dawlah (d. AH 413/1022 AD) the ruler of Aleppo on behalf of the Fatimid imams; by the time of the writing of this work in 411/1021 the Fatimids had extended their authority over Northern Syria. The title means The Horse and the Mule; it is an allegorical work in the manner of Kalilah wa Dimna, with animals used as the mouthpiece for the sentiments expressed within. It is an important document for analysing the contemporary political situation in Aleppo especially in its relations with Egypt.
Two copies were found: the earlier of them, known as muskhat al-hafasiah is in the National Library of Egypt and is dated 638/1240. The slightly later copy in the National Library of Rabat is known as muskhat al-hadaramiah and is dated 697/1297. Both copies have some damage.
The present copy has no colophon, but from an inspection of the paper a 12th century date is proposed, making it the earliest copy known. The paper on which this manuscript is written is of very fine quality. It has 8 laid lines per square centimeter, consistent with a 12th century date and a North African origin.
The copy is misbound; the opening folio, which states that this book is as dictated by the author may have been added later. The final folio is lacking.
Abd al-Rahman bint al-Shati, A.(ed.): al-sahil wa al-shahij Arabic text, Cairo, 1975
Smoor,P.: Kings and bedouins in the palace of Aleppo as reflected in Ma'arri's works, University of Manchester, 1985, pp. 99-132
Hitti, P.K.: History of the Arabs, London, 1970, pp. 458-9
Bosworth, C.E. et.al.: The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leiden, 1986, Vol.V, pp. 927-935